Beaches, Bros and the Word of God

This week, we focus on the beauty of service. Brendan talks about his experience traveling to Panama City Beach, Florida, on a mission trip, and challenges us: Why not you?

By: Brendan Gotta, Guest Contributor 

Type in on Google “Spring Break Capital of the World.”

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Panama City Beach, Florida

A few places try to claim this title, but the consensus is that it belongs to Panama City Beach, Florida. Now, depending on whom you’re speaking to, this is either a title of pride or embarrassment. Regardless, one thing is true: Panama City Beach (PCB) can get a little crazy.

During my junior year of college, I spent my spring break there, but I was not there to party; instead, I was there on a mission trip. With the beaches packed with thousands and thousands of college students, my small team and I were given a chance to be God’s hands and feet in a place with little semblance of Him. The mindset for most people going to PCB is, “If it feels good, do it.” I knew this going in, but I was still shocked from the onset. Drunkenness and recreational drug use were the norm, not to mention the sexual promiscuity present at every turn, either in display or in conversation.

It would have been easy to lose all hope after seeing the sinfulness, but God’s mercy and grace wouldn’t allow it, and neither would the people there. For every action seen that made my stomach curl, I saw another action of love and kindness. I remember my first day arriving at the beach; I saw a woman passed out drunk on the sand. A man walked by her and kicked sand on her, which made me sick to my stomach. It seemed like I was the only person who cared about this woman, until the spring-breaker I was talking to suggested we should go help her out. Just like that, my faith in humanity was restored. This ended up being the theme of the week: I was constantly surprised by despair and then surprised again by hope.

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Brendan (far right) traveled to Panama City Beach, Florida, with Sonlife Mission Trip in spring 2014.

I was forced to do some serious self-reflection. I was raised Catholic, growing up in a loving family, but even still, I struggled and still do struggle to live a good and holy life. With that being said, how could I lose hope in these people, many of whom had grown up in very broken families, often with no faith formation? To many of them, their actions were only results of the brokenness they had experienced throughout their childhood.

Because of sin, the desire that is to love and to be loved had become distorted. They needed to see and feel the love of God in His truth and fullness. I was given the chance to make that a reality, so as not to lose hope, but to bring hope. This hope was present in my conversations and prayers, as I really came to see the goodness in the people I encountered. With God-given grace, I was able to look past sinful actions and instead focus on the goodness of each and every soul.

When I left PCB, I left knowing that the Lord had just given me an opportunity few will ever experience. I was blessed beyond measure, able to show the love of Christ Jesus to people who had never really experienced it or had forgotten it along the way. I will forever remember this trip, and will always pray for the people I encountered there on those beaches.

This is the beauty of service. The more we give, the more we will receive.

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The Bánica Mission is a partnership between the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana, serving 13,500 poor people in the rural area of the Dominican Republic on the border of Haiti. (Photo by Shana Siler)

I invite you to spend some time considering how you can serve our Lord; the opportunities are endless. Whether it is a phone call to a friend or a trip to volunteer at a soup kitchen on a Saturday morning, the Lord will use it. Looking for something on a grander scale? Consider joining me and Commissioned by Christ for a mission trip to Bánica, Dominican Republic, this February. Details can be found here. With every mission trip I’ve been on, one thing has always been clear: The Lord will make the experience well worth your time, money and effort.

There is only one question: Why not you?

p.s. Apply soon; applications are due October 20!

Brendan Gotta serves the Diocese as the Young Adult Coordinator in the Office for Family Life.

Find the Diocese of Arlington’s Bánica Mission on Twitter 

Find Brendan on Twitter @GottaLive4HIM

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